February 4, 2007

Superbowl Party: Atheist Style

I enjoy watching football but almost always seem to be too busy to watch more than a few of games each year. I'm going to a Superbowl party this year at which virtually nobody cares about either of the teams playing. I hope the Bears win, but I can't say I really care all that much. It should be a good excuse to watch interesting commercials and hang out. However, I just found a good reason to root for the Bears (or at least against the Colts).

I have never understood the use of religion in sports, and this was true even in the dark days when I was a Christian before I found the light of reason. The idea that a team or fans would pray for success always struck me as absurd. Did they not think that the other team was probably doing the same thing? Did they really think that their god would favor them? Evidently, some really do believe this.

When one's team wins, it must be because of one's god. When one's team loses, it is never because of one's god. Instead we hear vague references to the loss being "part of god's plan" or how "god works in mysterious ways."

Players will argue that they derive strength, motivation, or will through prayer. There is probably some truth to this, as long as we are talking about psychology and not supernatural nonsense. Much like soldiers become more effective killing machines by dehumanizing the enemy, athletes competing in team sports may improve motivation in this way. Since religion is inherently divisive, fostering an us against them mentality, it should be no surprise that coaches use this method.

And yet, there remains something disturbing about the owner of a professional football team meddling with religion in this way. Irsay thinks his god helped him through a personal crisis. It would be more accurate to say that his belief in a god provided some sort of psychological assistance to him. I could buy that. And yet, his need to provide "public words of testimony" reveals a lapse in his orientation to reality.

Do I really care who wins this game? No. But this at least gives me a reason to cheer for the Bears.

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